Branded content is dead. Long live branded content

In this guest posting, Anthony Freedman argues why branded content is making a comeback.

A few short years ago, probably concurrent with the advent of the PVR, a new term emerged within the marketing communications industry; branded content. This was really synonymous with advertiser funded TV shows where programming was created by brands and deals struck with networks to broadcast them.

There were varying degrees of success with this model. Yes it gave rise to Gamekillers developed by BBH New York for Axe and Iconoclasts developed by @radicalmedia for Grey Goose Vodka. Locally Rexona was behind Greatest Athlete. And no doubt there will be a long list of posts from readers highlighting many other local and global success stories.

But in my opinion, this model never really took off to the extent that many thought it would. And I think there were a number of reasons for this.

Firstly the business model for a TV network is predicated on ratings. And they are ruthless in culling programming that doesn’t deliver. They will move scheduling around and if necessary, cut shows altogether. This makes for a highly volatile climate for a brand that needs to reach an audience at a certain time within a certain period. Would it be prudent to divert advertising production and media dollars towards programming that may not run at the time your audience tunes in? Or worse still that may not run at all?

Secondly the notion that people wouldn’t watch traditional advertising any more never really came to pass. I’m not going to re-hash whether 30 second TV ads are or aren’t relevant any more within this piece. It’s a well-worn debate and I just don’t have the word count available. But suffice it to say that TV stations are still in business selling them and year on year Superbowl spots seem to get more expensive not less.

Thirdly the quality of the content just wasn’t that good. There was a fair share of poor concepts, badly executed, with insufficient production values and gratuitous (but justified) brand messages that detracted from the entertainment value rather than enhancing it.

For all of these reasons for many the phrase ‘branded content’ felt tired and decidedly 2007!

But actually I think it’s alive and kicking, albeit in a different form.

In the first two months of this year alone, Host produced three ‘branded content’ campaigns for three different clients.

Kiwi Sceptics for Air New Zealand followed four Aussies convinced New Zealand had nothing to offer them, as they were duped into a visit that resulted in a very different experience to the one they expected.

20/20 for Free TV is the second series of documentary films that looks at the future of television from the people who are shaping it. This installment featured Dan Wieden, Jonathan Mildenhall (Coca-Cola VP global advertising strategy and creative excellence) and Mark Holden (PHD global strategy director) among others.

And Coke Zero challenged NRL teams across the country to a series of football challenges in the pursuit of understanding of just what’s possible… or not.

So what about the notion that branded content is dead?

To me, the key to this resurgence is the ability for brands to now find an audience without the need of a broadcast partner.

In a short few years we have all grown very comfortable with the notion of consuming video online. Our connections are faster, we are streaming longer form content and downloading on a daily basis. Quoting US figures from comScore, the number of hours of online video watched by an average user increased by 60% to 21.8 hours in the 12 months from Feb 2011 to Feb 2012.

The web has democratised the content landscape and good quality stuff is now able to find its own audience, bypassing the broadcast partner altogether. Of course we need to have the right skills to ‘ignite the social graph’ but every agency worth its salt would have some understanding of how to do that. Or would know someone who could help.

Interestingly for brands, when you are earning your audience rather than buying it through a broadcast partner, it’s even more important that the content entertains and the brand role is smartly integrated not simply bolted on. Because the better the content, the more sharing and commentary and the bigger the

Additionally, the digital environment is more forgiving from a production values perspective allowing for more modest productions. The web also supports a much wider range of content format from webisodes to vlogs to ‘how-to’ videos. Online content is more accessible to many more brands, either with smaller budgets or who aren’t quite ready to dispense with the more conventional advertising options in favour of their own TV show.

We also now have more ways to consume video content more of the time. The number of devices that make for a good viewing experience has exploded from smartphones to consoles to tablets. Estimates suggest that by 2016, 50% of the population will own a tablet.

Lastly like all things online, it’s highly quantifiable. Brands can watch their audience grow, count the views, monitor the comments, see the sentiment. All in real time. Better still they are one click away from converting to a sale or finding out more. And if they’re not convinced there and then, you can ‘re-target’ them a week later.

And this is before I mention the notion of “branded content” as apps or games…

From where I see things, branded content far from dead. It’s come of age.

Anthony Freedman is the chief executive of Host Sydney


  1. you are right
    15 May 12
    11:03 am

  2. The main difference here in Australia is that media goes through the sales door to the network.

    Advertising agencies need to get better at going through the production channels.

    You have to pitch the shows just like anyone else and you need to know where the gaps are in the programming departments and what each channel individually stands for.

    I think a great casing point, actually two great casing points, come out of TBWA in LA.

    On for Gatorade Replay (a very bad version of this was doen for the Australian Market) and also GT Academy for both Nissan and Playstation.

    Check them out. They are great.

  3. Matt
    15 May 12
    12:04 pm

  4. Nike Football does an amazing amount of branded content which is then promoted throughout traditional channels (especially outdoor).

    It’s having real impact too – Tom Rogic of Central Coast Mariners was picked up off the back of winning Nike’s ‘The Chance’ trials.

    All of this is really embedding the Nike brand within the psyche of your average football fan/player/consumer.

  5. Oscar
    15 May 12
    1:14 pm

  6. I figured branded content would come of age with video on demand, where content isn’t beholden to the broadcaster’s programming schedule but rather by audience demand. The optimist in me would hope that this will drive content quality and producers of successful branded content would thrive. These examples (as well as Grilled for McDonalds by OMD) show the industry dipping their toes in the water before antiquated broadcast television dries up.

  7. Stat man
    15 May 12
    2:37 pm

  8. Hey Anthony. Great post mate. A cracking topic for my interests and some very pertinent points made about this content landscape we are all hustling in these days.

    Curious on the stat:
    “Quoting US figures from comScore, the number of hours of online video watched by an average user increased by 60% to 21.8 hours in the 12 months from Feb 2011 to Feb 2012.”

    re the new 21.8 hours – is it per what? Week, Month, Year!?! Please elaborate.

  9. Jeepers
    15 May 12
    2:44 pm

  10. Out of any of those Aussie examples are any really that good?

    What real impact have they had? Maybe a a tonne of paid for views, but really at the end of the day nobody gives a toss about branded content because it’s, branded.

    One of the only real good examples was The Monkeys Motor On It, which wasn’t used as an example oddly.

    For every thing that’s half-decent there are 10 times as many things that suck, and it’s not always the ad agency’s fault, but when you have so many cooks it’s hard not to spoil something.

  11. Red Engine
    15 May 12
    2:46 pm

  12. Interesting post but no mention of the role of social media in concert with branded content. This really is where majority of marketers with budgets large and small can put branded content to work.

  13. Scott
    15 May 12
    3:21 pm

  14. There are plenty of successful YouTube partners who can help your brand with their content strategy. Lonely Planet led the way more than a year ago If you want to make the content yourself there is a great Playbook here too:

  15. chris
    15 May 12
    3:56 pm

  16. News flash…branded content is not a new idea. It’s what P&G and Lever Brothers were thinking about then they funded the first TV soap operas.

  17. Anthony
    15 May 12
    5:30 pm

  18. Stat man – that comScore figure of 21.8 hours is per month – apologies for a key omission on my side.

    Red Engine – when I talk about ‘igniting the social graph’ I am talking about social media. Undoubtedly it plays a significant part in good content finding its own audience.

  19. Jeepers
    15 May 12
    5:43 pm

  20. Thanks Chris, nobody knew that there was branded content before the internet. While we are patronising everyone-

    Der brainwave guys! Didn’t you know that Willy Wonka was branded content too!!!

  21. Hank
    15 May 12
    5:58 pm

  22. @Jeepers

    “For every thing that’s half-decent there are 10 times as many things that suck,”

    …and of course that can’t be said of TVC’s or TV programming – oh no.

  23. Logic
    15 May 12
    7:32 pm

  24. It’s a weird world where videos that cost $100k and get 10,000 total view starts *not completion* are considered successful. $10 per person who presses play and probably $33 per person who finishes …

    of course agencies love this stuff cos the margins are great and there’s ample opportunity for hidden costs, but unsure normal users have the same passion for branded content as agencies and marketing managers

  25. Anne Miles
    15 May 12
    9:30 pm

  26. Nice way to do an ad for Host hey?

  27. Anne Miles
    15 May 12
    9:31 pm

  28. Nice way to do BRANDED CONTENT for Host I should say!

  29. Pablo
    16 May 12
    12:57 pm

  30. Brands should by now (and quick & smart have for a while) be building up their content inventory… because unlike a lot of the short term campaign stuff that will never be seen again after the TV media schedule has run dry… good quality content can be consumed / enjoyed / engaged with years from now. For brands it’s an investment that’s closer to buying your own home as opposed to renting…

  31. Kate Richardson
    16 May 12
    6:11 pm

  32. The branded content campaigns that have the most impact are those that generate scale….produced by brands and agencies that understand that content is one part of the equation. Not much point in spending on content without distribution and a smart leverage strategy.

    It’s not rocket science, it’s the old sports marketing model really, which is why brands like Nike excel in this space.

  33. Chappy
    16 May 12
    6:50 pm

  34. Branded content, digital entertainment, sponsored video… whatever you want to call it, it’s here and it’s saying. We just need to get better at considering it, budgeting for it, producing it and measuring it.
    Ogilvy Entertainment has developed their own measurement (Assessment) model which is a great step forward for the industry. I wholeheartedly agree that once you know what value you’re trying to deliver for a client, the easier it is to justify the production cost. It would benefit everyone if more agencies banged heads and sorted out an industry model for delivering and measuring the effectiveness of branded content.

  35. jrbeee
    18 May 12
    3:39 pm

  36. Hey chappy …can we see an example of the value
    measurement device?